People Like Us was represented by Alex Au at an informal briefing on the final guidance to the UN Human Rights Council on the Guiding Principles for the Implementation of the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework and other topics related to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Human Rights. The briefing was organised by the Foreign Ministry and given by the Special Adviser to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) on Business and Human Rights Mr Gerald Pachoud and Legal Adviser to the SRSG Ms Vanessa Zimmerman, and held on 19 March 2011 at the Foreign Ministry.
During question time, Alex Au pointed out that calling for corporate social responsibility can only go so far in a context like Singapore, when the state does not pull its weight. Either the state has no laws that protect human rights, or, as sometimes is the case, has laws and policies that require corporations to act in contradiction to rights.
An example of the first would be this: Singapore does not have an anti-discrimination law in employment. The result is that employers are free to discriminate against LGBT persons, and especially for the transgendered community, job opportunities are severely circumscribed.
An example of the second: Foreigners employed in Singapore, and found to be HIV-positive have their work permits or employment passes quickly terminated and are sent back to their home countries with no attention paid to medical care or follow-up.
A third example, though not one related to corporate behaviour, was what happened at the ILGA-Asia conference in Surabaya last year, when an extremist religious group raided and attached the conference, forcing its abandonment. Here again was another example of the state failing to do its part.
Au argued that it is very well for UN organisations to draw up broad ideals and call on the corporate sector to do their part, but where the state is missing in the equation, or acting in opposition to human rights, not much can be achieved.
In response, Mr Pachoud clarified that the Guiding Principles do indeed stress the central role that states have to play in protecting human rights, such as non-discrimination.
Another participant in the audience spoke about the difficulty he faced in getting companies to incorporate non-discrimination on sexual orientation in corporate ethics, eventually arriving at compromise language that referred to non-discrimination in “personal relationships”. The objections were along the lines that nobody should be required to not discriminate against sin.
The chair of the meeting, Mr Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s Representative to Aichr, remarked that secular states should not be applying “sin” as a consideration in law and policy, giving by way of example, how one member of the Indonesian cabinet confused his duty to the state with his own loyalty to his religion, by calling for a ban on Ahmadiyah.
Aichr is short for the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. Other country representaive to Aichr who were present at the briefing were Richard Magnus (Singapore) and Muhd Shafee Abdullah (Malaysia).